Or kind of. After writing this post last winter, I started thinking about this idea as a way to connect with some of the classes I work with. Quick recap, I was looking at craft tutorials online and came up with some common characteristics they had, that our library tutorials don’t always have:
- They’re kind of at the point of need, they’re kind of not.
- They’re all about how to make something.
- They usually assume some level of knowledge on the part of the user.
- They are presented using social tools.
- There’s value added. They do some of the work for the user.
- A lot of the time, they’re marketing tools.
- They are created within an existing community.
I work with some of our distance education classes, the writing classes for example, and having some very quick and easy “here’s how to get this thing done” how-to’s make so much sense for those students – I tend to answer the same questions over and over and I have access to their class space in the LMS and to their email addresses.
But it’s not just the distance classes that I am thinking about. I taught for a business writing class and it was exactly the kind of class I frequently have trouble with. The students need to do a little bit of very specific kinds of research for every project they have in this class — there’s no way to time a single instruction section so that it works for this class.
To show them how to find the specific types of stuff (information on non-profits, job listings, community statistics, opinion polls, company information, annual reports, and on and on and on) they need to find, in a face-to-face session inherently means spending most of the session doing straight-up how-to demos to support assignments they don’t even have yet. There’s no way around it. There’s no way the instructor could have structured the class any better, and there’s no way that I could make these topics more relevant in a traditional one-shot.
And the stuff is pretty straightforward – it’s mostly a matter of pointing to where the stuff is, and a few tips on the how, and they can take it and with it from there. The complex part of what students need to do in this class is to figure out what kind of evidence they need to write about the project they’ve come up with for the audience they have — that’s good, interesting work but it’s also not well-suited to a one-shot because they have to do this over and over again for every project they do. So multiple one-shot sessions would make no sense for this class either.
What makes sense to me is to connect with this class at the start of the term, by visiting them in person since they are an in-person class. But the quick connection at the start would be pretty easy to replicate online. And once that first connection is made, it makes sense to me to send the class quick how-to information about the stuff they need to find, when they need to find it.
I am also thinking about some of the large general education classes that I would like to support, but which we could never support with face-to-face sessions given current staffing levels. We are already embedded into the First Year Composition curriculum, which is the only course required for all of our undergraduates. But there are a lot of other courses that have a lot of undergraduates enrolled and some of those have assignments that require outside sources. Thinking about the opportunity to reach 500 or so students with some point-of-need help (that reinforces the FYC lessons) in each of those classes, while continuing to reach 700-800 in FYC – that would make me pretty happy about our impact on the first-year experience.
So, is copying the craft tutorials the way to go? Maybe it is – not entirely copying, but there are some opportunities there, I think. Our web developer, Susan McEvoy, put together a blog for me to use just for this – that should let us track the same kind of statistics we track on the overall website. It’s very simple, stripped-down. The posts are just text and images. Because I write fast, putting together one of these takes 20-40 minutes, with most of that taken up uploading images.
So that means I can be really responsive and tailor things to assignments. It’s also easy to send students a link and announcement from within the LMS. In fact, there’s a DIY Tutorial on how to do that.
So how do they match up with the craft tutorials? Do these concepts translate? Sometimes yes, sometimes now.
1. They’re kind of at the point of need, they’re kind of not.
This is true in that they are sent to students at the point of need, and they also persist, so they can be found or re-found later. But I don’t think they’re very searchable now, given that I haven’t done much to make that happen. The images are all on flickr, which is something I think could be utilized better – at first I thought putting together Joe Murphy-style tutorials at the same time as the DIY tutorials made sense, but then I realized that I re-use a lot of the images. But I think the tagging here could connect people to the finished products too, if I think about it more.
2. They’re all about how to make something.
This one, I have trouble with. The bibliographic management ones work in this way – “make a bibliography.” A lot of the others are more process-focused. I tried to focus the titles at least on the thing(s) that could be found with the process, but I think this one needs more work too.
3. They usually assume some level of knowledge on the part of the user.
I did link out to other tutorials when I thought there might be things people didn’t know. But otherwise these are limited to the specific thing they are about, not all of the building blocks knowledge people will need, or the additional questions they might spark.
4. They are presented using social tools.
Yes, and this is important. There is an issue with the comments, since most of our users don’t log in to the system before using it. But putting it on a blog allows for the content to be repurposed easily into our Course Pages:
and our LMS:
5. There’s value added. They do some of the work for the user.
This, I haven’t figured out. Perhaps if I was working in less of a teaching environment this would be easier.
6. A lot of the time, they’re marketing tools.
7. They are created within an existing community.
To the extent that they are being created and conceptualized entirely within existing classes, yes, this works. To the extent that being of a community makes them findable, I think that is less clear.
So, we’ll see how it goes. I have no plans for assessment at this point beyond web logging information – including the time spent and return visits, so more interesting than straight hit counts. And I have a fairly modest definition of success – these take so little effort to make, I don’t need all of the students in the class to find them useful, or even to try them. I will keep you posted.